Steve over at Utopia Springs sent me a link about a fascinating housing idea for desert areas.

Desert Submarine Interior (click to enlarge)

Desert Submarine Interior (click to enlarge)

These structures stay cool in the desert (in the 60’s) using just evaporative cooling. The galvanized metal roof is covered with burlap, and water flows down over the top. A small RV pump is adequate to keep the system going. They were popular with railroad workers and farmers starting in the 1920s, and were also used to keep milk and produce cool. The same principle was used on a four-bed ward at a local hospital.

Steve found one remaining structure at the Coachella Valley Museum, in Indio, California. He estimates a 12V-4W RV pump would cool a small room like this at a cost of about $1/sq. foot. Add a small photovoltaic panel or windmill water pump and it would be even more sustainable. Imagine combining this concept with earthbag end walls to capture and retain coolness, low cost earth floors, vines to shade end walls, etc. The possibilities are endless. Thanks for sharing, Steve!


Desert Submarines — 7 Comments

  1. My ex father in law had a sub in his backyard. It had a rounded roof and water was ran over it. The house was sold after he passed. But it was in north Indio.

  2. My Grandfather Jay L. Simmons Sr. was a Locomotive Engineer for Southern Pacific. When I was about 5 years old he was working between Los Angeles and Indio California and had a Submarine in Indio near the Indio Depot. He took me with him on one trip during the summer and we slept in his “Sub”. It was well over 100 degrees in the middle of the night, and while the Sub did keep us cooler, we slept with a wet sheet over us. When the sheet dried out we took it outside and held it on the side of the Sub to get it wet, rung it out, and went back to bed. We later moved to Indio and lived in a house with a “Desert Cooler” for a number of years before we got our first air conditioning which was called “refrigeration” in those days.

  3. There was a television program, I think it was “California’s Gold” which featured part of an episode to these types of desert submarines. It was very informative.

    • Thanks for the tip. This video is available for purchase from Huell Hower Productions.

      Keeping Cool

      “Californians have done everything imaginable to keep cool in their blistering deserts. Huell looks at two ways of cooling off: first, in the amazing old “desert submarines” of Indio County, then at an honest-to-goodness oasis near Palm Springs.”

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